Baptism: Not Just Water

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This week we move on to the Fourth Part of Luther’s Small Catechism. Thus far we have looked at The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer. With the Fourth Part we will consider the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. We will also reflect on Confession and Absolution.

With the Ten Commandments we are taught what God expects of us. And accordingly, as in holding a mirror before us, we see we fall far short of these expectations. With the Apostles’ Creed we are taught what God has graciously done, and continues to do, for us – even though we fall short of his expectations. With the Lord’s Prayer we are taught how we are to live for the One who has so graciously acted, and still acts, for us. And by praying, we acknowledge that it is only by his grace that we can live for him.

Now with a meditation on the Sacraments, we will discover and be reminded of important resources God provides us with to live in and for Him!

The Fourth Part begins with Holy Baptism. The first question posed in the Catechism is, “What is Baptism?” And Luther’s explanation is, “Baptism is not water only, but it is water used together with God’s Word and by his command.” Then Luther substantiates this with Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And so why do we baptize? For starters, our Lord Jesus has commanded us to baptize. And because we are commanded to do so, that means that we are authorized to act on his behalf. Jesus says as much when he commands us to do the baptizing “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Importantly, our Lord is the one who washes away our sins! And he does this through his proxies, that is, through his followers, his Body the Church. And we do so in his name!

 

 

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose and meaning of our Votive Prayer Candles?

To “light a candle for someone” means that you will say a prayer for them. The candle symbolizes your prayers. When we light a candle it is a sign of attentiveness and that we are being purposeful in offering intercessory prayer. It is an important act in which we are involved! To be in prayer is to be spiritually awake and vigilant. And as the candle continues to burn it symbolizes our ongoing prayers. It is a sign to others that prayers are being offered. In such an atmosphere, indeed the darkness gives way to light.

Doxology

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We have considered the Seven Petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in our journey through Luther’s Small Catechism. But before we move on to a reflection on the Sacraments, we have one more important part of the prayer to touch on. The Lord’s Prayer concludes with the “Doxology”.

The Doxology goes, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.” In his explanation Luther hones in on the word “Amen”. The explanation reads, “Amen means Yes, it shall be so. We say Amen because we are certain that such petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven and are heard by him. For he himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us.”

What a comfort it is to know that our heavenly Father wants us to be confident in our praying! It is a comfort because we might otherwise be full of doubt and despair, wondering if God listened to our prayers. That Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, taught and commanded us to pray surely means that God wants to hear our prayers!

And when we are full of doubt and lack confidence we can be thankful for the great gift of the Lord’s Prayer. Even when we can’t find the words to speak, our Lord provides us with the words! We can pray the Lord’s Prayer verbatim, as suggested in its rendering in Luke’s Gospel. It can also serve as a model prayer, as suggested in Matthew’s rendering.

Don’t be hoodwinked by those who belittle the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer! Recitation does not preclude the petitions coming from our hearts. Proof of this is how the singing of a familiar hymn can be heartfelt. It is our sinful nature, the world, and the devil that would like to steal away this great gift from us. Little wonder we conclude this prayer by lauding God’s name with praise, and then say Amen!

Since You Asked…

Why is incense used in some churches?

The use of incense is not unique to Christianity or Judaism and is used in many of the world’s religions to enhance special times and places by sight and smell. In Christian worship incense is effectively used at the beginning of the Service of the Word and in preparing for receiving Holy Communion. The burning of incense is associated with the prayers of worship rising before God (cf. Psa 141:2; Rev 8:4). Good worship should engage all the human senses. In this connection it should be pointed out that the olfactory sense is perhaps the most sensitive of the five senses; it continues to function even during sleep. (Indebted to Aidan Kavanah in his “Elements of Rite”.)

Deliver Us From Evil

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The Seventh and final Petition to the Lord’s Prayer actually dovetails quite nicely with the Sixth Petition. The Seventh Petition reads, “But deliver us from evil.” Previously, in the Sixth Petition we had prayed, “And lead us not into temptation.” This is something, we were reminded of last week, that God would never actually do! But there are elements that would lead us into temptation. And with the Seventh Petition we ask to be delivered from this peril.

As usual, we will consider Dr. Luther’s explanation. He writes, “We ask in this inclusive prayer that our heavenly Father would save us from every evil to body and soul, and at our last hour would mercifully take us from the troubles of this world to himself in heaven.”

Who can count the evils of this present age! Luther listed two disastrous ones in the explanation to the Sixth Petition, namely, false belief and despair. The Ten Commandments would help us come up with a good summary of various evils. That list would include idolatry, blasphemy, disdain for God’s Word, rebellion against parents and other God appointed authorities, murder, adultery and other sexual sins, thieving, lying and defaming, and coveting. The classic Seven Deadly Sins could also be listed: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. The list goes on. No wonder Luther emphasizes that this petition is an inclusive request to be delivered!

You might be surprised to learn that the Lutheran Confessions differentiate between venial (forgivable) and mortal (deadly) sins! But the difference is not in the category of the offense, but in our treatment of the sin. Any sin for which we refuse to repent becomes a mortal sin to us. Conversely, even the most heinous offense has been atoned for by Christ on the Cross and the forgiveness can be received by repentant sinners.

And so as repentant sinners, we ask to be delivered from evil!

 

Since You Asked…

Why do we say in the Creeds that Jesus Christ “is seated at the right hand of the Father”? Does this mean that our Lord is far away from us?

This has little to do with Christ’s physical location. Instead it has to do with the authority he assumes. For a King to be seated on a throne is a symbolic gesture of his rule and authority. Heaven itself is a reality that transcends time and space. It is the unseen and timeless realm that underlies the visible and temporal world. We confess Christ to be seated at the right hand of the Father because we believe him to be the rightful King of the universe. Indeed, Jesus is Lord!

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

This week we are considering the Sixth Petition to the Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.” And Luther’s explanation reads, “God tempts no one to sin, but we ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory.”

Luther is certainly on the mark when he reminds us that God himself does not tempt us to sin (see James 1:13). The identity of the tempter is threefold: the devil, the world, and our sinful self. So we might ask, why would we ask God not to do something that he in fact has no intention of doing?

I think the answer, at least in part, is to remind us that we can rely upon the Lord to protect us from those elements that would lead us into temptation and then have us succumb to them. For far from leading us in that direction, God will deliver us from temptation and lead us in the path of life.

It is also interesting to note the two temptations to which Luther directs our attention. They are false belief and despair. On the surface they may not seem so serious. But Luther recognizes that the effect of either of these two can lead to damnation!

Even other great and shameful sins can be forgiven you if you retain right belief, and do not knuckle under to despair. For false believe can lead us to bark up the wrong tree for the fruit of forgiveness. Christ’s death alone atones for our sin. And despair blinds a person to the love of God and his outstretched arm of mercy. It is the antithesis of faith and hope.

And so that we don’t take our salvation for granted, we are taught to continually pray that we not succumb to temptation, especially false belief and despair.

 

Since You Asked…

What is the Significance of The Baptism of Our Lord?

John the Baptist came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Since Jesus was sinless he had no need to be forgiven. The human race, however, is sinful. And our need for forgiveness is great indeed. In explaining why he should be baptized by John, Jesus said, it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. In other words, Jesus came to stand with us and accomplish on our behalf all that God requires of us, including repentance and the forgiveness of sins! At his baptism there was a revealing (an epiphany) of the Holy Trinity. And at his baptism, Jesus took our humanity which he assumed in the Incarnation and lowered it in the cleansing water of Baptism. His public ministry would commence with this public rite.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

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The Small Catechism tour resumes this week with a consideration of the Fifth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer. The request goes, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And Luther’s explanation reads, “We ask in this prayer that our Father in heaven would not hold our sins against us and because of them refuse to hear our prayer. And we pray that he would give us everything by grace, for we sin every day and deserve nothing but punishment. So we on our part will heartily forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”

We are not always aware, but our greatest need is the forgiveness of sins. We more readily cry out for help in response to the perceptible distresses in our lives, such as pain, illness, hunger, thirst, loneliness, grief, poverty, fear, being under some kind of attack, and the like. But all these miseries have their basis in sin!

Adam and Eve’s first sin unleashed a chain of disastrous consequences. Shame, blame, discord, envy, suspicion, and alienation are some of those consequences. Tragically, along with pain in child bearing and labor by the sweat of one’s brow; sickness, dying, and death (returning to the dust) are where the consequences culminate! Adam and Eve were ushered out of Paradise. They no longer had access to the Tree of Life!

Our redemption involves absolving the sin problem. As Luther says elsewhere in the Catechism, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” And good for us, the forgiveness of sins is the main element of the Christian Faith! Jesus came to forgive sinners! That’s what his death on the cross is all about.

We ask for forgiveness of sins, because he promises to forgive! We are to continually ask, because unfortunately, we continue to sin. And our willingness to forgive others is proof positive that we recognize our own need for forgiveness, and that we are grateful for having been forgiven.

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of the Epiphany and the Season that follows?

The word Epiphany means “manifestation” or “a revealing”. Since light helps to reveal and make manifest, on January 6 we recall the Magi led by the light of the star to the manger to worship Jesus, “the Light of the World” given birth by Mary. We will go on in the Season that follows to commemorate the manifestation of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River, where the voice of the Father spoke, and the Holy Spirit descended and alighted on Jesus as he came forth from the river. The voice identifies Jesus as God’s Son in whom the Father is well pleased. The Season after the Epiphany closes with the Transfiguration whereby a future glimpse of the Resurrected glory of Christ was revealed.

Give us this day our daily bread

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As we transition to the Fourth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” our beloved Dr. Luther reminds us: “God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all people, though sinful, but we ask in this prayer that he will help us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanks.”

Indeed, as the Scriptures acknowledge, “For he (the heavenly Father) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 4:45). The difference between the just and the unjust is whether they realize where their blessings come from, and whether they receive the same with thanks.

Our Lord Jesus has an interesting way of teaching us how to pray. We keep offering petitions that God will fulfill whether we pray or not. For example, we ask for his Kingdom to come, but it will come regardless of our prayers. You can rest assured that God’s name will be hallowed, his Kingdom will come, his will be done, and daily bread will be given. But do we recognize our dependence on God?

Of course when recognizing that God gives daily bread we are talking about more than a loaf of bread made of wheat. As Luther explains, “Daily bread includes everything needed for this life, such as food and clothing, home and property, work and income, a devoted family, an orderly community, good government, favorable weather, peace and health, a good name, and true friends and neighbors.” Although not an exhaustive list, Luther’s list is a good one!

I find it interesting that our Lord taught us to ask for “daily” bread. He did not instruct us to ask for a week’s supply, a month’s supply, or a year’s supply. I guess he would like us to be daily dependent and thankful for his provision. The tendency otherwise would be to take these things for granted. Little wonder why affluence can be dangerous…

Since You Asked…

What does the Pastor’s Stole signify?

(the stole is the colored strip of cloth that loops around the back of the neck and hangs from both shoulders) The stole represents a yoke such as would be used to link and employ an ox with a plow or cart. When a work animal is yoked to a task, that animal comes under the rule and guidance of its master. As Christians we are to be yoked to Christ (cf. Mt. 11:28-30). We are to fear, love, serve, and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. The Pastor’s stole is therefore not only a sign of ordination in the Lutheran Church, but it visibly reminds the whole congregation of our servant hood to Christ.

Thy Will be Done

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This week we look at the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. It reads, “Thy will be done.” And Luther’s explanation is, “The good and gracious will of God is surely done without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that is may be done also among us.” The he goes on to describe when this takes place. “God’s will is done when he hinders and defeats every evil scheme and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful self, which would prevent us from keeping his name holy and would oppose the coming of his kingdom. And his will is done when he strengthens our faith and keeps us firm in his Word as long as we live. This is his gracious and good will.”

Perhaps I should begin by saying something about a person’s “will”. When we speak of our will, we are talking about our determination, desire, wish, or choice. There is a big difference between our human will and the Lord’s will. We cannot always accomplish the things we determine or desire. Things are different with our Lord. Another important difference between our human will and the Divine will, especially after the sin of Adam and Eve, is that our desires are self-centered, twisted, and evil. God’s will is always good and gracious. In fact in theological terms, apart from grace, our wills are in bondage to sin, death, and the devil.

Our being joined to Christ in Baptism begins the liberation of our wills from bondage. The new birth given in Baptism actually creates within us a desire for the good things of God. But this new nature is battled against by our old sinful nature along with the devil and the world.

And so we are taught and commanded to pray, essentially, that our wills would conform to God’s will. And this happens as we allow the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, especially as he keeps us firm in God’s Word! Truly we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!

Since You Asked…

Why is the Triune Name of God repeated so frequently in our worship services?

The mystery of the Trinity is one of the most distinctive elements of our Christian Tradition. Christianity is not alone in claiming to be monotheistic (belief in one Supreme Being, one god). But Christianity holds that this One, True God has revealed himself to us as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches that God the Father has revealed himself through God the Son and in God the Spirit. Only the Son can be seen, and only through the Spirit are we enabled to believe in the Father and the Son. And so we often invoke the name of the Triune God in the mystery of our faith.

Thy Kingdom Come

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Moving on this week to the Second Petition in the Lord’s Prayer we first look at the petition itself: “Thy kingdom come.” No small request here! And then we will consider Luther’s explanation. “God’s kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may come also to us.” And then the good Doctor explains when this happens. “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life on earth now and in heaven forever.”

In our culture the use of such words as “king” and “kingdom” seem a little quaint to us. And we accordingly go back in history, to a feudal period, and have images of castles, knights, thrones, crowns, and the like.

Again, in our culture, we relate to a democratic republic for our government. And although we have a chief administrator, the office of the President is balanced by the legislative and judicial branches of power. The President is also limited as to his term in office and is bound by the restraints of the Constitution.

We are therefore better off to go back to the images of a life-long king as the sovereign of the land, and to the extent of his rule as to his kingdom. For this is more in keeping with understanding our Lord’s exercise of authority.

As Luther instructs, God’s rule is sure to come even if we resist it! We will not thwart his will. What is to be determined is how we will fit in to his reclaiming of his legitimate domain. Will we be willing subjects, or rebels brought to ultimate justice?

And if it is the former it will be because of the Holy Spirit given us in Baptism as we allow his work in us, believing his holy Word and living godly lives!

Since You Asked…

What does the Advent Wreath Symbolize? The circle of the wreath reminds us of eternity and our God and Father who has no beginning and no end. The green boughs indicate the hope of life being renewed. The candles represent Christ, the Light of God, who comes into this dark world to bring light and life. The four colored candles lit successively over the four Sundays in Advent, represent the patience required in waiting for Christ’s coming. As there were centuries of waiting between the Old Testament prophets and the birth of Christ, so we must patiently wait for Christ’s return at the end of the age. At Gift of Grace we wait until Christmas Eve to finally light the white center candle (the Christ Candle) to indicate that the fulfillment of the promise of God with the birth of the Christ Child on the first Christmas morn.

Hallowed Be Thy Name

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This week we will consider the First Petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.” And Luther’s explanation goes, “God’s name certainly is holy in itself, but we ask in this prayer that we may keep it holy.”

Doctor Luther goes on to elaborate when this happens, “God’s name is hallowed whenever his Word is taught in its truth and purity and we as children of God live in harmony with it. Help us to do this, heavenly Father! But anyone who teaches and lives contrary to the Word of God dishonors God’s name among us. Keep us from doing this, heavenly Father.”

Interestingly, there is a tie here with the Second Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” The only way to keep from breaking this commandment is to ask God’s help in hallowing his name, rather than taking his name in vain.

Also of some importance is the fact that this petition leads the way! And whereas the request appears to be asking God to hallow his own name, interpreters of Scripture, from the beginning, understood that in fact we are asking that we might keep God’s name holy. Luther was not original in his teaching. He was a big proponent of the plain sense and time honored understanding of God’s Word. It is heretics who revel in novelty!

One of the surest ways to dishonor anyone is to do violence to their words. If you twist what someone says, if you misrepresent their words, or if you ignore their wisdom and advice you defame the person. And this is exactly what we do when we do not teach God’s Word in its truth and purity, and when as Christians we do not live in accordance with it!

Plain and simple, we honor our Lord when we honor his Word! And only with the Divine help do we have a prayer, pun intended, in honoring him!

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of the Season of Advent?

The Church year begins with Advent, a season of preparation that looks toward both Bethlehem and Christ’s return at the end of the age. Advent is its own Season and the rich symbols and themes should be safeguarded and celebrated without being drowned out by the upcoming celebration of Christmas. The first two Sundays in Advent center on the Parousia (Christ’s Second Coming). The third Sunday in Advent centers on John the Baptist as the herald of Christ. And the fourth Sunday often centers on the Virgin Mary in her exalted role in giving birth to God’s Anointed One.

 

“When you pray, say…”

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Our Small Catechism excursion continues this week with a consideration of the seven petitions to the most profound prayer ever composed and then prayed. It is a superlative prayer because it was given and taught by our Lord Jesus himself. Of course I speak of the Lord’s Prayer, or what some folks call the “Our Father”.

But before we consider the petitions we will first note the way this prayer is addressed. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” was what Jesus’ followers asked of him. And Jesus’ responded, “When you pray, say…” Jesus actually gives them the words to speak! (Lk. 11:1, 2) And the words for the address begin, “Our Father who art in heaven.”

It is hard to beat addressing God as Father! We often say “Heavenly Father” or “Father in heaven”. This is not the only address we can use. There are plenty of others in Scripture. Prayers can be addressed not only to the First Person of the Trinity, God the Father, but they can also be addressed to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. But it is very common in the life of the Church to Address the Almighty as Father, and then to offer the prayer through the Son and in the Spirit.

We should avoid addresses that are neither Scriptural nor commonly used throughout Church history. When Jesus’ name is used it is usually Lord Jesus or Christ Jesus. Talking to the man upstairs is problematic. And the “Father God” that I am hearing frequently is not the best. The Triune God is not a Father God. He is a Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Luther’s explanation for the Lord’s Prayer way of addressing God stands by itself. “Here God encourages us to believe that he is truly our Father and we are his children. We therefore are to pray to him with complete confidence just as children speak to their loving father.”

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of Christ the King Sunday?

The Festival of Christ the King marks the end of the long season after Pentecost, and it anticipates the day when Christ will return and be revealed to everyone as the rightful ruler of the world. The appointed lessons for the day make it clear that at the end of the age Christ will come in power and great glory. Previous to this we have known his gentle rule. We have known King Jesus as the one who shed his blood to free us from the grips of sin and death. But when he comes again in glory he will come to judge the living and the dead. There will then be no doubt as to who the sovereign of the cosmos is!